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Metalaw – What is it good for?

Bohlander, Michael (2021) 'Metalaw – What is it good for?', Acta Astronautica, 188 . pp. 400-404.


The initial metalaw debate about relations with ETI since the mid-to-late 1950s advocated a transmogrification of the traditional Golden Rule into “Do unto others as they would be done by”. The reasoning built upon full equality between humans and ETI and on extrapolations from Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Later iterations used thermodynamics, technology, economics, and altruism to shape the contours of universally valid ethical and legal principles. This paper aims to critique the intellectual foundations of the debate and argue, firstly, that despite its attempts at avoiding anthropocentrism in its deontology, it cannot evade the banal fact that so far only humans have contributed to the discussion. Secondly, it fails to acknowledge the diverse scenarios to be realistically expected in the case of contact. Thirdly, it omits recognition of the realpolitik environment surrounding such an encounter, for which there is ample empirical evidence in interhuman legal and political relationships. Ultimately, current unilateral human reflection about a cosmic metalaw is premature and the focus of the discussion should be on the parameters of the human response to a contact event, the quality and impact of which is unknown and unknowable until it occurs.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 29 June 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:25 June 2021
Date deposited:28 June 2021
Date of first online publication:29 June 2021
Date first made open access:29 June 2023

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